Roger Bower was born on January 8, 1903, in New York City. He attended the City College of New York and New York University. But he was more interested in entertainment than education; he aspired to be an actor, performing in vaudeville, minstrel and road shows. Bower first became associated with radio in 1927, when he was hired as an announcer for radio station WMCA in New York. After WMCA, he worked briefly as the station manager for an independent station in Newark, N. J., which was actually an elaborate front for a bootlegger.
Bower joined radio station WOR in New York in 1928, and worked there for 24 years; during that time, he also produced and directed programs for other stations, including CBS and NBC. WOR is known in the broadcasting industry as a "heritage" station, or a pioneer in the development of American broadcasting. WOR was first heard from Bamberger's Department Store in 1922. The WOR Network served more than 350 stations in the United States and Canada with programming produced by WOR in New York City; its programs featured such famous personalities as Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, and Henry Morgan. WOR was also one of the original member stations in the Mutual Broadcasting System.
At WOR Bower produced, directed, acted, and created sound effects. Periodically, he took his programs out of the studio to live audiences, playing to full theaters at Asbury Park, N. J., and elsewhere. During his years at WOR, Bower directed several thousand radio and television programs, including: You Can't Take It With You, The Treasure Hour of Song, Famous First Facts, Name Your Poison, Say It With Words, Mystery Sketches, Music Pastels, and Court of Literary Justice.
Bower's range of programs was practically unlimited. He did sports casting, including the Army-Navy games and the Rose Bowl; through this, he met Knute Rockne, and sports announcer Ted Husing. He directed quiz shows, both comedic and straight, including Twenty Questions. Mystery and detective programs were also among his credits, including The Crime Club. Bower directed The Witch's Tale, first heard in 1928, one of the earliest radio horror programs; he also provided sound effects and the "voice" of Satan, the black cat. His Bamberger Symphony was one of the first symphony programs on the radio. He also directed operas and popular music programs, working with Rudy Vallee, the Dorsey brothers, and Benny Goodman, among others.
Bower's first major program was Main Street Sketches, first heard circa 1925. It was a weekly, hour-long drama of small town life set in "Titusville;" Bower produced and directed, and also played the character Fleck Murphy. Around the same time, he served as the director, emcee and sound effects man for the popular Market and Halsey Street Playhouse, a variety theatre show of the 1920s.
He directed It Pays To Be Ignorant, a comedy panel program first heard in 1942, which parodied the popular quiz programs of the time. Another famous comedy of Bower's was Stop Me If You've Heard This One, with Cal Tinny, Lew Lehr, and Morey Amsterdam, first heard in 1947. He directed, and also served as emcee, reading listeners' jokes.
Bower's most famous credit was the comedy panel program Can You Top This?, with "Senator" Ed Ford, Joe Laurie, Jr., Harry Hershfield, and Peter Donald, first heard in 1940. Bower directed and produced this program, and also served as moderator and scorekeeper for five years. Listeners submitted jokes to the show, and the best ones were read to the panel by Donald. The panelists then tried to"top" the joke, with one of their own on the same subject. A "laugh meter" hooked to a microphone gauged audience response to the jokes, determining the winners.
In 1936, Bower married Jean Stewart, who was also active in radio. She worked for station WINS in New York, was vice president of the Sutton News Service, and was also a correspondent for various newspapers, including the Boston Globe, the Boston Transcript, and the Lakeville (Conn.) Journal. The couple later had three children: Roger, Wendy and Nancy.
In the early 1930s, Bower announced the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which he continued to describe for many years. He gave the first (closed circuit) television demonstration of station WOR in 1933, in a Macy's department store window. He also directed the musical entertainment feature during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday celebrations at the Waldorf-Astoria from 1941 to 1944.
After leaving WOR, Bower served as operations director for station WROW in Albany, N. Y., in 1954. He moved to station WKIX in Raleigh, N. C., in 1956, as general manager. Later, he worked for Welch, Mott and Morgan, broadcast attorneys based in Washington, D.C. He wrote chapters on radio and television for textbooks and encyclopedias, including The Children's Encyclopedia (New York: A. Barnes). He also co-wrote a joke book with Lew Lehr and Cal Tinney, Stop Me If You've Heard This One, based on their radio program.
In 1960, the State Department sent Bower to the United Arab Republic for a year, to set up television stations in Cairo, Egypt, and Damascus, Syria. While overseas, Bower was an intermittent correspondent for Variety magazine, a position he also held during his subsequent trips abroad.
Shortly after his return from this mission in 1961, NBC International asked him to assist in the development of Nigerian television and radio. Bower agreed, and he and his wife Jean Bower stayed in Lagos, Nigeria for six years. Bower served as managing director of the Nigerian Television Service from 1962 until he left the country in 1967. While in Nigeria, Bower received the Pope's Medal of Honor for his work, and was also made the vice president of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Immediately after the end of this assignment in 1967, NBC International sent Bower to Saigon, Vietnam, where he stayed for two years, working with the television and radio services. Jean Bower lived in Bangkok, Thailand, because of safety concerns, visiting him periodically. While he was there, Bower received the Psychological Warfare Medal of Honor from the South Vietnamese government.
In 1974, the International Executive Service Corporation of New York City arranged for Bower to help the Iranian government evaluate its television and radio programming. He spent approximately three months assessing the National Iranian Radio-Television System.
During his career, Bower received many accolades. New York radio columnists voted him Best Announcer for two years (1930-1932). He was made an honorary member of Rho Tau Sigma, a professional fraternity, for his work in collegiate broadcasting. He was a member of the Lamb's Club, one of the oldest theatrical clubs in the world, and contributor to their newsletter, The Lamb's Script. Bower was also the first president of the American Guild of Radio Announcers and Producers, and a past director of the Radio and Television Director's Guild.
Roger Bower died on May 17, 1979, in Sharon, Connecticut.